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"Star" and "Bamboo"

From the 1st Session of the Imperial-Diet until the Sino-Japanese War, the so-called early period of the Diet, the influential figures, MUTSU Munemitsu, GOTO Shojiro, KONO Togama, et al., all moved in complicated and subtle ways within the interstices between the Satsuma-Choshu Government and the popular parties. Of these, the person whose actions drew the most attention from the worlds of bureaucracy politics, and journalism was MUTSU, who had the reputation of being both "The Razor" and "The Devil." Ever since the days of SAKAMOTO Ryoma's Kaientai, MUTSU was close to the Tosa faction of the Liberal Party. Though he was the son of a high retainer of the Kishu domain (Wakayama), "Tosa" is even listed as his birthplace in the bureaucrats' register of the early period. MUTSU's longtime friends from Tosa included ITAGAKI Taisuke President of the Liberal Party, NAKAJIMA Nobuyuki, the first speaker of the House of Representatives, and TAKEUCHI Tsuna, who was Prime Minister YOSHIDA Shigeru's father. MUTSU's younger sister was NAKAJIMA's deceased wife Hatsuho, making him NAKAJIMA's brother-in-law. Further more, due to his tenure as governor of Kanagawa Prefecture, he had intimate relations with the leader of the Kanto faction of the Liberal Party, HOSHI Toru. MUTSU was in control of the so-called Kishu-gumi (Kishu Band) the Representatives from Wakayama Prefecture, he could use them as his "foot soldiers" to exert significant influence on that Assembly. Whenever there were conflicts in the House of Representatives, MUTSU's actions became a focus of attention: sometimes he was looked upon with admiration, and at other time with suspicion.

One of the Diet members who MUTSU relied upon as a contact person to apply pressure on the Diet was his younger cousin OKAZAKI Kunisuke, a leading member of the Dokuritsu Kurabu, a neutral faction. The Papers of OKAZAKI Kunisuke include numerous letters with provocative contents describing MUTSU's secret directives, such as "to take steps to make HOSHI the House speaker", and "Use the 'address strategy'," repeating the same questions to bring out the contradictions in the Cabinet members' answers.

MUTSU in his later years (at his villa in Oiso) From "Mutsu Munemitsu" [portrait]
MUTSU in his later years (at his villa in Oiso) From "Mutsu Munemitsu"
HOSHI Toru, circa 24 July 1892 (Meiji 25) Papers of HOSHI Toru, #195 [portrait]
HOSHI Toru, circa 24 July 1892 (Meiji 25)
Papers of HOSHI Toru, #195

Letters, it goes without saying are written of paper. Unlike vocal language, which disappears as they are spoken, paper remains as an artifact. Though the likelihood may be slight, it is not entirely impossible that an undesirable third party may set eyes on it, through theft, surreptitious reading, copying, forwarding, etc. In his letters with secret matters, MUTSU often signed his name as "you know who" or "Fukusuke" (the latter seems to have come from one of his pseudonyms "Fukudo"). When the person he wanted to influence was HOSHI, he would substitute the English word "star" using katakana characters phonetic "alphabet" sutaa, and when he was talking about the newspaperman TAKEKOSHI Sansa (Yosaburo), an adherent, he would write the English word "bamboo" in the katakana phonetic "alphabet". One wonders how tight his secrets really were, if all he did was to substitute part of their family names into English. KURODA Kiyotaka was adept at describing people by using OO, as in count OO, but merely substituting "star" for HOSHI is too easily decipherable. The least he could have done was to use the German "Stern" or the French "etoile" instead.

Still, this was the doing of MUTSU Munemitsu, whose shrewdness was legendary. He probably never intended to hide the identities of those people at all, and instead, he may have really just been having some fun with the situation!

Letter from MUTSU Munemitsu to OKAZAKI Kunisuke 26 January 1896 (Meiji 29)Papers of OKAZAKI Kunisuke, #11-4

Letter from MUTSU Munemitsu to OKAZAKI Kunisuke January 26, 1896 (Meiji 29) Papers of OKAZAKI Kunisuke, #11-4 [Historical materials image]
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